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Untold Behind Story of North Korean Celebrity

Moon Sung Hwee, from Jagang in 2006  |  2008-03-22 13:56
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▲ Oh Mee Ran in the movie, 'Traces of Life'
The North Korean government-managed "Chosun Central TV" re-broadcasted the movie "Traces of Life (produced in 1989, in two parts) on the 6th. The movie features the People's actress Oh Mee Ran as the protagonist and the scenario is written by famous screenwriter Lee Chun Gu of the Chosun Arts Movie Studio.

This movie became even more famous as the movie which elicited tears from Kim Jong Il, who said, "A true patriot is someone who does not want honor or a reward, but fights for the fatherland by sacrificing himself."

This movie is a story of a female Hardworking Hero married to a People's Army Officer who dies while bravely fighting in the marine battle against the South. She devotes herself to farming work and ultimately rises to the manager of the collective farm.

At the time of its 1989 opening, it received the praise of "expressing the unchanging devotion regarding the Workers’ Party and noble humanity." However, the actual figure on which the movie was based, Han Soon Hee, was accused of being a "spy" at the height of a life which received spotlight and was executed, closing the curtains on a "life resembling a screen."

◆ Han Soon Hee, who was executed along with Suh Gwan Hee

Han Soon Hee was executed along with Suh Gwan Hee, a secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party being in charge of Agriculture, in September 1997 under the charge of espionage. She was the chairwoman of the management committee of the Sungnam Collective Farm in Sookcheon, South Pyongan Province.

In "Traces of Life," her husband was depicted as having died in a battle with the South Korean navy, but in reality, he also died from a chronic disease during his time as a collective farm leader in Sookcheon. After losing her husband, Han met Kim Il Sung who was on an onsite inspection to Sookcheon and due to the fateful meeting, she was promoted as the chairwoman of the collective farm.

Between 1960s and the 1980s, Kim Il Sung visited Sookcheon almost every year. Due to this, Han received the "Hard-Working Hero Title" and was chosen as a delegate to the Supreme People's Assembly in 1982. In "Traces of Life," her life was adapted as a movie. In the Workers’ Party, they backed her up as someone from whom everyone should learn.

However, after Kim Il Sung's death, Han was implicated in the so-called "Shimhwajo Case," which is the mass-scale espionage crack-down ordered by Kim Jong Il to remove close associates of Kim Il Sung in the late 1990s. Suh, the secretary was blamed as the principal offender of the food shortage in North Korea in the 1990s. When he was executed, she also received the charge of espionage for having been close to Suh.

In September 1997 in Victory 3-dong, Tongil (unification) Street in Pyongyang, they were publicly shot in the midst of a countless number of Pyongyang citizens who came to watch. After the purging of a number of pro-Kim Il Sung figures from the Party and national organizations, due to the "Shimhwajo Case," Kim Jong Il ironically played "benevolent politics" of restoring the honor of a few people whom he had ordered to be executed.

In 2000, the honor of Han had been shot to death under Kim Jong Il's order was restored. However, the majority of her family members who had been dragged to political prisoners’ camps were already known to be deceased. The rumor started circulating that her single aunt who took care of a high official was the only remaining family member.

◆ Screenwriter Lee Chun Gu, who was fired due to the film "The Person Who Remains in Your Heart"

Lee Chun Gu is a rather well-known writer even in South Korea. He wrote the scenario for "Traces of Life."

Born in Gyogu-dong in Chung-District, Pyongyang, he graduated from the High-Level Technical School in Pyongyang and worked as a mechanical manufacturer. He was recognized for his literary skills, so entered the Kim Il Sung University's creative writing department and started working as a writer belonging to "Chosun Writers Company" since 1967.

He came into the spotlight of the film industry for the scenario of "The Heat Control Engineer" in 1974. He also wrote the 1970's propagandistic movie "Until the End of This World" and "The Female Engineer of Our Farm," but did not receive huge acclaim.

Along with writer Hwang Suk Young who crossed over into North Korea in the early 1990s, he co-wrote the movie, "The Symphonic Poem for My Lover," which depicted the Gwangju Mass Resistance. Such a service used to receive the Double Hard-Working Hero Title, the Kim Il Sung Distinguished Service Medal. Until the mid-1990s, he held successive posts as the "Chair of the Chosun Film and Cultural Creative Company."

However, Lee's successful career did not last too long. He who suffered from diabetes from a long time ago bent over backwards to continue writing while fighting his disease. However, people around him who were envious of his success criticized him, proposing the problem that he often missed the regular evaluation meeting of the Party and did not live his life faithfully.

Charged with plagiarism on top of that, he was often called the "Stage of Criticism" and for the reason of his newly written artistic movie, "The Person who Remains on Your Heart" treated a love triangle, he was eventually dismissed and was exiled to the Daehongdan in Yangkang Province in 1998.

In North Korea, movies or stories containing love triangles are not recognized due to the fact that it is improper for the literary principles of a socialistic reality. Thus, "The Person Who Remains on Your Heart" still remains incomplete even until now.

He suffered from disease and the grim realities of life in the Daeghongdan. In 2003, he was only reinstated and became resurrected as a member of the Supreme People's Assembly. On September 22, 2005, Yonhap News used a source in North Korea to report on Lee Chun Gu, saying, "Since 2004, he was selected as a Vice-Director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Party and has been charge of the film division," but specific achievements have not been known.

◆ Oh Mee Ran, who died from mammary gland cancer

Oh, who played the role of Suh Jin Joo in "Traces of Life," originated from ‘April 25 Film Studio’ of the Korean People's Army." Her father Oh Hyang Moon (deceased in October 2000), who crossed into the North during the Korean War appeared in several movies, including "The Problem in Our Home."

Oh was originally a dancer in the Pyongyang Arts Troupe since 1979, but debuted in the movie industry with the 1980 film, "The Rising of a Salute." She appeared as the main character in "In Their Image," "Memo of a War Correspondent," "The Birth of a New Government," "Minjok and Destiny," "The Chinese Bellflower," "New Star," "Crooked Destiny," and "Traces of Life," garnering the climax of her popularity.

In particular, she received the Best Actress Award at the 1st Pyongyang Non-Alignment Film Festival in September 1987 for "The Bellflower" and participated in the 1st North-South Korean Film Festival (in New York) in October 1990 and was chosen as the Best North-South Korean Film Artist. In 1988, she was presented the 1st National Medal as a People's Actress and in November 2002, received the "Kim Il Sung Award."

Oh, due to her extraordinary talent and beauty, received individual acting lessons from Kim Jong Il several times, so she was known as Kim's mistress along with actress Hong Young Hee.

While she lived as a patient for 10 years due to her battle with mammary gland cancer, she had the privilege of having an expert medical team, including expensive foreign medicine and nurses, under Kim Jong Il's special orders, but passed away at 51 in June 2006.
 
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